Update

AMD Ryzen Threadripper: Everything we know so far about this monster CPU

AMD gears up for battle versus Intel in the core wars.

pcw threadripper hub Credit: AMD

Updated July 24: It's a small update but AMD just showed of the nifty box that Threadripper will come in (you can see the box at the bottom) and no, it's not big enough to include a liquid cooler. This isn't as as big as the news from July 14 that Threadripper will support 1TB of RAM nor even remotely close to the real news from July 13 when AMD announced jaw-droppingly good prices for its 16-core and 12-core Threadripper CPUs. Threadripper’s clock speeds and August release window were also revealed. 

AMD’s Ryzen Threadripper chips could very well be the most powerful consumer CPU ever introduced when it releases in August. With up to 16 cores and 32 threads, Threadripper gives the high-performance Intel products currently dominating high-end desktops something to worry about.

The mega-core CPU battle is now quickly turning into an arms race. Check back here for all the latest information about Threadripper as more details become available.

dsc06715 IDG/Gordon Mah Ung

AMD’s busted out Threadripper at Computex.

The specs we know

  • The Ryzen Threadripper 1950X features 16 cores with simultaneous multi-threading (SMT) for 32 threads of compute power. The base clock speed of the chip is 3.4GHz, with a 4GHz boost speed.
  • The Ryzen Threadripper 1920X will feature 12 cores with SMT for 24 threads of compute power. The base clock speed of the chip is 3.5GHz with a 4GHz boost speed.
  • Both chips pack a whopping 64 PCI-E lanes
  • Memory: Quad-channel DDR4
  • Platform: X399 with a new TR4 socket that is incompatible with existing Ryzen chips.
  • Both chips are unlocked for overclocking adventures.
  • Can’t be “delided” easily as it uses a solder thermal interface material.
  • Release date: Threadripper PCs will be available for sale on July 27. CPUs and the motherboards to put them in will hit “early August.”
  • Alienware has the worldwide exclusive on Threadripper systems among large PC manufacturers, but many U.S. boutique builders will offer it as well.
  • Both parts will be 180 watt TDP chips.
  • Ryzen Threadripper CPUs will support up to 1TB of RAM when 128GB LR-DIMMs are used.
  • Threadripper will not ship with an included liquid-cooled cooler as has been rumored.
ryzen threadripper socket IDG/Gordon Mah Ung

Here’s the new TR4 socket where Threadripper will live.

How much will Threadripper cost?

We’ve said AMD’s plan this year is to be as disruptive as possible and Threadripper looks positioned to do just that. The 16-core Ryzen Threadripper 1950X will cost $1,000, while the 12-core Ryzen Threadripper 1920X will cost $800.

How disruptive is that? Well, with Intel’s 16-core Core i9-7960X pegged at $1,700 and it’s 12-core Core i9-7920X priced at $1,200, it’s easy to see Threadripper will likely be as disruptive to Core i9 as Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 7 were to Intel’s Core i5 and Core i7.

What do we know about Threadripper’s performance?

We won’t know the full effect of Ryzen Threadripper’s 16 cores and 32 threads until we test it. Meanwhile, our reviews of Ryzen 7 and Ryzen 5 can give you insights into the strengths and weaknesses of the Ryzen family.

AMD, however, has given us a taste of just fast the chip will be in multi-threaded tasks. In a controlled demo from an AMD lab, AMD CEO Lisa Su showed off the 12-core Threadripper 1920X socking the 10-core Core i9-7900X with a Cinebench R15 score of 2,431 to 2,167. The real beatdown came from the 16-core Threadripper 1950X though, with a score of 3,062.

1920x vs 7900x AMD

AMD’s results pitting the $800, 12-core Threadripper 1920X against Intel’s $1,000, 10-core Core i9-7900X in Cinebench R15.

Keep in mind that we don’t know details about the configurations of the test PCs. The machines were also in the control of AMD, which always sets off conspiracy theories, but AMD’s previous Ryzen performance demonstrations matched the final parts, so this is likely a true predictor of Threadripper’s performance in 3D rendering in Cinebench.

We’ll go out on a limb by saying that AMD’s disclosure of the base clock speeds promise decent performance for most tasks. The 16-core Threadripper 1950X features a base clock of 3.4GHz, while the 12-core is slightly higher at 3.5GHz. Both will hit higher boost clocks of course, but the guaranteed minimum base clock is quite promising for performance considering how many CPU cores the chips have.

cinebench threadripper Gordon Mah Ung/IDG

How AMD’s Threadripper scores in Cinebench R15 compare against other chips tested by PCWorld.

Bigger chips tend to be difficult to scale to high clock speeds due to the thermal and power limits. For example, Intel’s 16-core Xeon E5-4660 v4 has a base clock of 2.2GHz with a boost of 3GHz, while the new 3.3GHz Core i9-7900X has earned a reputation as being a hot head, especially if you overclock it.

This horse race really won’t be answered until we have all the players on the field of battle so stay tuned for more.

It will support up to 1TB of RAM

No, we're not kidding. Threadripper shows its server roots and will be able to support up to 1TB of RAM if you populate all 8-DIMM slots with 128GB LR-DIMMs or Load Reduced DIMMs. Unlike today's Registered DIMMs that use a chip to redrive some of the signals to the memory directly from the CPU an LR-DIMM uses a memory buffer to re-drive all of the data and instruction sets.

None of this comes cheap though. A single 32GB LR-DIMM  DDR4/2133 module costs $1,100, so you can imagine how much a 128GB LR-DIMM will cost when available.

And yup, if you guessed, the typical person doesn't need 1TB of RAM, but in the "look what I could if I wanted to category," it's a major bragging point.

This factoid was actually noticed by Anandtech in a video Alienware published last month.

What about the 14 and 10-core versions?

With 16-core and 12-core Threadripper chips now out in the open, people expecting 14- and 10-core Threadripper CPUs (and full parity with Intel’s Core i9 selection) might be disappointed. AMD hasn’t said boo about any further Threadrippers yet despite earlier leaks indicating a fuller lineup, and AMD executives have told PCWorld it’s not even clear they feel they have to match Intel’s offerings.

ryzen threadripper socket with skylake x IDG/Gordon Mah Ung

Threadripper isn’t huge, it’s yuge. In fact, that’s the plastic load plate protector of a Core i9 hovering over a Threadripper TR4 socket

What about the X399 chipset and other specs?

At Computex, AMD revealed that all Threadripper CPUs will feature 64 PCI-E lanes and quad-channel RAM support on the X399 chipset, but other hard details of the chipset aren’t known. What do know is that the new chips TR4 socket is yuge.

Threadripper is also AMD’s first consumer chip to move away from the older pin grid array (PGA) design to the same land grid array (LGA) as Intel’s chips. In other words, Threadripper’s pins are in the motherboard socket, not on the chip itself. That means you can’t bend pins on your AMD chip anymore. Hurray! The bad news? You can bend the pins on the motherboard and trash that instead.

The other detail AMD slipped out is what the maximum thermal budget is for the chip and it's a doozy. The company said both chips have a TDP of 180 watts vs the Core i9 7900X's 140 watt TDP.

Before you scream that it'll be too hot to cool, one thing you remember is that Intel and AMD haven't always used the same definition of what a Thermal Design Point is. Intel's Core i9 is also getting a pretty bad reputation for being too hot to handle as it is.

Even more insane is this fact: The 16-core Ryzen Threadripper 1950X's 180 watt TDP is still 40 watts less than the AMD 8-core FX 9590 CPU which had a 220 watt TDP.

What about Core i9?

intel Core i9 speeds and feeds Intel

The Intel X-series and Core i9 lineup.

AMD isn’t the only company working on monster CPU for consumers. With Intel’s Skylake X or Core i9 finally breaking from cover, the battle is joined. Well, kinda. As you can see in PCWorld’s Core i9 review, Intel’s new HEDT chips are indeed fast—but there are caveats to that performance. Far worse for Intel though are the combatants it can put against Threadripper immediately. 

Threadripper’s coming in early August. The best Intel can muster is a 12-core Core i9 chip also slated for an August launch. The 14, 16 and 18-core chips? They won’t enter the fray until at least October, which means Threadripper is likely to be unopposed for a couple of months.

Our CPU hounds debated and dished on Core i9 vs. Threadripper during our “Full Nerd” show. They also took bets on the pricing, so see if someone has to eat paper in this video. 

Core i9 uses a new X299 chipset, and the top-of-the-line Core i9-7900X features 44 PCIe lanes and quad-channel memory support. You need to spend at least $1,000 on a 10-core Core i9 chip to get more than 28 PCI-E lanes, though. 

Will you really benefit from that many cores?

18 cores IDG

Even Handbrake can’t use all the resources of an 18-core, 36-thread CPU, so buy a mega-core CPU only if you can really use it properly.

With Intel and AMD waging a fierce a core war this summer, you’d assume that more cores means better performance. The truth is more nuanced.

How many cores you need really depends on what you do. If you primarily play games, a mega-core PC isn’t likely to yield the performance you’d expect. If, however, you edit video, render 3D, and run other intensive workstation-like tasks, more cores generally means less waiting. Having an embarrassing number of cores can also aid in heavy-duty multitasking. You know, like simultaneously rendering 3D, video, audio, and playing games. 

ryzen threadripper and mobile IDG/Gordon Mah Ung

AMD’s new 16-core Ryzen Threadripper (left) dwarfs the 4-core Ryzen mobile chip (right).

Threadripper-worthy box too

You know what's funny about the CPU business? If you buy a $1,000 CPU, you get it in practically the same box that you get when you buy a $100 CPU. That's about to change though as AMD CEO Lisa Su just showed off the nifty box Ryzen Threadripper will come in. 

And no, this isn't just some special preview box or reviewer's only box, AMD officials confirmed to PCWorld that this will indeed be the retail box for Threadripper.

threadripper box 2 AMD

AMD's fancy new packaging for Threadripper features the CPU floating in an eye. Who wants to bet that it lights up too?

Although we don't know if the box lights up, dances or makes noise, we can see there isn't enough room in there for a liquid cooler. The rumors mills have been working overtime saying AMD would bundle a closed-loop liquid cooler or CLC with the 180-watt TDP chip but this box is clearly too small for that. For what it's worth, AMD officials have never officially confirmed that a CLC would be bundled with all Threadripper CPUs.

Basically don't expect a cooler to come with Threadripper which makes more sense as few people who buy $1,000 CPUs use them.

threadripper box Lisa Su/AMD

AMD's Lisa Su holds what we presume to be a Threadripper box.

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